Book Review: Non-fiction/ Rabindranath Tagore: An Interpretation by Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, Penguin/2011, 306 pp; Rs499 (Hardback)
There are many shades of Tagore’s personality, and so diverse are the attentions of scholars on his works and life. Among the Indian scholars on Tagore, name of Sabyasachi Bhattacharya is most remarkable. His publication, The Mahatma and the Poet: Letters and Debates between Gandhi and Tagore made history simple and further beautifully highlights the overall concern of Tagore for Indian independence and other issues of contemporary importance. If that book was entirely a new conceptualisation of knowing the great persona of Tagore and Gandhi through the impressive ranges of correspondences, here in present work, Rabindranath Tagore: An Interpretaion, author comes closer to following the general trend while inquiring the same Tagore who is very-very well known and articulated. Here, Kabir’s old couplet exactly fits on the Gurudev…
“If all the land were turned to paper and all the seas turned to ink and all
the forests into pens to write with, they would still not suffice to describe the
greatness of the guru.”
In the entire history of humankind, no one has received as much praise, adoration and coverage as did Tagore. And that was not without the reasons…he could imagine independently for a humane and naturalist existence, where he succeeded very well despite hailing from an aristocratic background. One of the countless views on him, that’s from the western world stresses that his approach was closer to the “eastern mysticism”. Which appears like a complete conflict in understanding and fails to reckon him in original; Tagore was an arch critic of “complexity “in any form and certainly the very idea of “mysticism” could be only rest on the sets of complex procedures. So in terms of the broader world views, he was humane, naturalist, creative, free thinker, rural reconstructor, great institution maker and a poet par excellent.
This book features Tagore’s life and works in short details and restrains any specific aspect to be much vigorous and complete. Pages 66-67 provides few fresh informations about Tagore for most of the general readers, here young Rabi Thakur’s early experiments with the literature creates prolific impetus to know ahead more on this. Ofcourse had few more paras were added here, this book could have of much more importance than what it is in present form. Anyhow young Tagore’s likeness for Kalidasa’ Meghadutam, his trying hand on translating Macbeth of Shakespeare and complete dislike for Michael Madhusudan Dutt’s Meghnad-badh Kavya have briefly showcased here. Another important finding on Tagore put forth here but again in inadequacy of delineation, which is as “He enjoyed reading the archaic Maithili poems of Vidyapati which he copied with his own notes on obscure words and usages”. That tries well to streamline the close sharing of two very identical languages, Bangla and Maithili…on this particular theme, there is need of further research and concentration.
Sabyasachi Bhattacharya though again with tight hand, but has atleast tried well to focus on Tagore’s intimacy with his sister-in-law, Kadambari Devi, whose sudden demise left his in emotional void. “Bhanusingher Padavali” has drawn in the fond memory of her and is the sole work of Tagore that’s so heavily influenced through the tradition of Maithili poetics. Beyond Vidyapati, indeed Kadamabari Devi was another Maithil (from Bhagalpur), who shaped his taste for this antique language and culture. On the row of national song Vande Matram, Sabyasachi Bhattacharya has written a very comprehensive book/Vande Matram: The Biography of a Song…inside this book too, Tagore’s affirmation and endorsement with the most part of this song demystifies many wrong notions attached with it.
Among the two specialties this book has, one is its holding the flared debate on Tagore’s views on nationalism. Author has comprehensively decoded the Tagore’s two novels Gora and Ghare-Baire and given the whole perspectives, why Tagore had apathy with some typical kind of nationalism but not with the nationalism itself. A closer look on Tagore’s major works allows its reader to get in the right frame of mind. He was essentially as harsh critic of violent nationalism as of the lustful imperialism…his basic urge was closer to the safety of nature and natural impulses. Under this paradigm, he was thinking beyond the boundaries but nevertheless that shouldn’t be taken, as he didn’t stand with the idea of nation. Second major theme that this book focus is on Tagore’s quest for rural reconstruction, here his path was as symmetric to humanism as of a consine bearer of nation. This verbatim of Tagore exudes, he was an ardent supporter of modern nationhood but against the idea of narrow nationalism that draws boundary and keep floating the permanent hatred on the cultural line.
“If we could free even one village from the shackles of helplessness and ignorance, an ideal for the whole of India would be established… Let a few villages be rebuilt in this way, and I shall say they are my India.”
Writing on Tagore always needs immense efforts and meticulous research. Fortunately, numerous peoples have done noticeable works in this regard, because of that; there is flow of good materials on him. But even lately, now it would be better, if some of his vision could be included in the mainframe of policy making. Education is area where his vision of “completeness” is the need of hour and that alone can make our education system more flexible and natural. It would be also imperative, if he could be taken not only as the source of knowledge but also as the inspiration of action. At this eventful juncture of history, India needs a looking back on its own thinkers rather surmising on the absentee philosophers from the different geography of the world who in reality had no proper concern for its history, present or future. Time is ripe for taking Tagore’s vision in totality and not in division. This book expresses the fundamentals of Tagore’s illustrious works and life, so readers would found it blissful knowing him in short but authentic.
Atul Kumar Thakur
New Delhi, February 05, 2012, Sunday